Personal Development 

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Sequence 24

13-Personal Development

In previous lessons, I wrote about my bad decisions as a young man and how those decisions led to my 45-year sentence. Since those lessons didn’t come easily to me, I’ll offer the backstory, hoping that participants can follow along. Future modules and supplementary video lessons will show how early preparations influenced the career I began to build upon release. The sooner we begin preparing for success upon release, the stronger we become. 

Any person searching for a pathway to personal development from prison may find examples of strategies and tactics helpful.

While I sat in my jail cell, I knew I wanted to change. My crimes exposed me to a possible life sentence. When authorities arrested me in 1987, I understood that a conviction would mean I wouldn’t be eligible for parole. The jury’s verdict meant I would serve at least a decade and probably much longer. 

Since I hadn’t been to prison previously, I didn’t know what to expect. 

Regardless of my sentence length, as I sat in various holding cells, I knew I wanted to leave prison differently. I tried to influence the way others thought about me. A jury convicted me, and a judge sentenced me. I wouldn’t be able to reverse that reality. Still, I believed I could create meaning or a positive life if I could influence my future.

When Officer Wilson from the detention center passed me A Treasury of Philosophy, I didn’t know what I’d learn. After I began reading, I felt as if I had come across a treasure map. If I could follow the teachings in the book, I would build a brighter future. Each chapter brought a new lesson, teaching me how to build strength out of weakness. 

The story of Socrates gave me a character with whom I could identify. When I read that Socrates awaited his death while in a jail cell, I felt we had something in common. For that reason, I wanted to learn about his life. As I read more about his inspiring life, I saw that Socrates thought differently from me. In his story, I could ascertain that he placed high importance on living responsibly as a good citizen. While in my early 20s, such concepts didn’t occur to me.

Socrates’ thought process influenced my perceptions. Before reading his story, I didn’t consider the relationship between my actions and the broader community. Neither did I think about how choices I made would influence others. Instead, I thought about myself.

Before reading that story of Socrates—during my first year of imprisonment—I only wanted to get out. My attorney led me to believe a big difference existed between an indictment and a conviction, and I wanted to believe him. I lacked the maturity to contemplate my crimes or what I would do if authorities released me. I simply wanted out of my jail cell.

Socrates changed my thinking. While lying on that concrete rack in the detention center, I stared at the ceiling of my cell. I needed to prepare, to make sure each day felt productive. In search of answers, or a roadmap that would help me navigate the pathway to success, I read deeper into that philosophy book.

While reading, I needed a dictionary. Before prison, I felt drawn to a fast lifestyle, not books, learning, or studying. School never held my attention. Reading through that philosophy book made me realize how poorly I had prepared for life’s challenges. As a prisoner, I knew I would confront many challenges. 

By reading philosophy, I learned the importance of introspecting as the first step toward change.


When I looked up “introspection” in the dictionary, I developed a better understanding. Philosophers said that wise men considered the motives that drove them. They took deliberate action in pursuit of success—as they defined success. Not every person would define success in the same way. Each person had to define success for himself.

That advice made sense. If people could define what success meant to them, they would have a better chance of advancing along the journey of success.

The more I thought or introspected, the more I realized I had to change. Before prison, my thoughts were shallow. I never gave any consideration to what it would mean to define success. Instead, I thought about what I wanted in the immediate moment—material objects, like cars, places to live, or clothes. I didn’t comprehend how daily decisions would influence the rest of my life. Like the friends I chose, I lived for the moment.

Introspection brought more clarity. I reflected on my years in school. From my earliest memories, I looked for the easy way, ignoring the teachers that invested so much time trying to teach me. I didn’t discipline myself. Whenever I saw opportunities, I acted quickly, without thinking about what would follow. I didn’t hesitate to lie or cheat if I felt lying or cheating would serve my interest.

The more I introspected, the more disgusted I became with my earlier decisions. Those thoughts and decisions led to the young man I had become—a person locked inside a cell on his way to prison. As I began to develop my thought process, I concluded that I wasn’t in jail because I sold cocaine. Instead, the system confined me because I lacked discipline since I was a young boy. I chose the easy route instead of preparing for success. Rather than surrounding myself with good role models, I befriended people with character flaws like mine. As I reflected, I could see how all those earlier decisions put me on a pathway that influenced the person I became.

While alone in that solitary cell, I thought about people I admired. Instead of being driven by greed or the pursuit of immediate gratification, those people aspired to become people of good character. They didn’t act in ways that would harm their reputation. 

The more I thought about my life in the past, the more I realized how my earlier decisions would influence the future I would build. Although I didn’t know what sentence my judge would impose, I understood that I would have to serve many years. 

When I finished serving my sentence and returned to society, I surmised that people would always judge me. They would denounce me as a convicted felon or a man who spent decades in prison. Their perceptions of me would influence opportunities or present barriers to opportunities.

As I thought about success, I wondered what steps I could take to influence the perception of people I would meet in the future. I wanted to be positive.


In what ways does introspection influence your release plan?

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